The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

May 17, 2013

Watercooler: Which comes first, business or pleasure?

By Karla L. Miller
Special to The Washington Post

— Q: I have an event coming up that I'm really excited about attending, have been planning for months and have invested significant funds into. My boss was recently discussing a business trip for one of my projects that occurs on the same dates as the personal event.

I told her I didn't believe my attendance is mandatory and that the funding for my travel could be put toward other priorities. She suggested that it would nevertheless be a "good learning experience."

Do I forgo the personal event? Or do I establish boundaries to preserve my personal life — and how do I do that without sounding as though I don't care about my professional development?

A: Pop quiz! Your boss asks you to go on a business trip, but you have a conflict. Which response is healthier for your professional development?

1. "I'd like to go, but there's one problem: Those are the same dates as this event I've been planning to attend for months."

2. "Actually, I don't think my presence is required on this trip that you, my boss, have asked me to take. You're better off investing that travel budget elsewhere."

I'm exaggerating, but honesty just seems so obviously the easier, smarter tack that I have to wonder why you're not taking it. You may think that making a work-based case for declining this trip seems more professional, but — unless your boss is a sadist, or you had been asked to keep those dates free, or this trip is more important than either of you is letting on — I would think she'd respect your prior engagement.

Sometimes, a vital career opportunity is worth shifting your personal plans for. Short of that, I think you're entitled to draw the work-life line at an event for which you've paid deposits, bought tickets or hocked your car.

You should probably come clean with the boss. Tell her you were concerned about looking unprofessional for putting personal plans ahead of your job, and reiterate that you are interested in other professional development opportunities. Finding someone to attend the upcoming trip in your stead might even help smooth things over. It may be embarrassing, but it will be easier than facing the boss if — or when — she overhears about your event and realizes it overlapped with the business trip.

Speaking of embarrassing: If the real issue is that you don't want to have to admit to your boss that you've booked a suite at a Hedonism resort . . . you're on your own.

Karla L. Miller writes an advice column on navigating the modern workplace. Each week she will answer one or two questions from readers.